Republican Governors Torn Over Taking Stimulus Funds
By Philip Rucker
The nation's governors, battered by plunging tax revenue and growing budget deficits in their states, converged on Washington today and predicted the economies in their beleaguered states would only worsen.
But even as governors outlined plans to spend billions of federal dollars in the economic recovery package to quickly put residents back to work, an internal rift among Republican governors over the stimulus bill dominated the opening of the three-day National Governors' Association meeting.
Some Republican governors, including Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, Mississippi's Haley Barbour and South Carolina's Mark Sanford, said in recent days they would reject portions of the federal stimulus funding. Barbour said today his state would decline a provision in the bill that expands state unemployment insurance coverage, a move he estimated would cost his state about $50 million in federal funds.
Asked about the stimulus package, Sanford said: "I think it's a bad idea. Period. Exclamation point.... Good medicine to the wrong patient ultimately makes the patient sicker. What we're dealing with here is a fundamental misdiagnosis of the problem."
South Carolina "may accept parts, decline others or some combination thereof," Sanford said.
But other Republicans said that despite disagreements with the legislation, they would use the federal funds. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R), asked about his colleagues' statements, said: "If you're gonna complain about it, don't take it. We're taking it, yes, and it's budgeted currently."
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) criticized the bill as "a meandering spending buffet," but said his state is "going to accept the money."
"This is a bill that missed the mark in terms of being focused and targeted," Pawlenty said. "For many Republicans, it's not our bill. But it is now the law, so we have an opportunity and responsibility to try to implement it as best as possible."
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D) called the debate among Republicans about accepting the stimulus money "overblown."
"Look, the argument's over, the fight's over," said Rendell, chairman of the governors' association. "The bill passed. Now if you're a governor, even if you disagreed with the bill, if the money's there and it will help your citizens get jobs, it will bring your citizens some extra health care or extra food stamps dollars, of course you're going to accept that money."
The governors, who will attend a black-tie dinner at the White House Sunday night and meet with President Obama Monday morning, are pushing an aggressive agenda to rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure. Rendell said the stimulus package is just a step toward that goal and that a long-term commitment to infrastructure spending is needed.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) said the stimulus package is "not just a Band-Aid on a problem. This is an opportunity to transform the economy."
In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said road crews will begin work in three weeks on an initial round of infrastructure projects, costing about $365 million in federal stimulus funds, that are "locked, loaded and ready to go."
In hard-hit Michigan, Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm (D) said her state has "$4 billion worth of projects that are ready to fit into $700 million in allocations, so you better believe people will be put to work immediately."
Many governors said they were bracing for the economy to decline further before it recovers and are consumed with balancing their budgets, where most states have large deficits.
"Nobody knows quite where this economic storm is going, but chances are 2011 is going to be a bad year, too, so the ability therefore to pull our rainy day fund into the future and preserve our bonding capacity is terribly important for our long-term viability as a state," Huntsman said.
Posted at 1:34 PM ET on Feb 21, 2009
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